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Zaki al-Arsuzi

Zakī al-Arsūzī (in Arabic: زكي الأرسوزي) born Lattakia June 1899, died Damascus July 1968) was a Syrian political activist and writer, and is widely regarded as a main inspiration for the Ba'ath Party. He was an influential theoretician of Arab nationalism.


Early life and education

Zaki al-Arsuzi was born to an Alawi family in Lattakia on the Syrian coast of the Ottoman Empire, but moved soon afterwards to Iskandarun province in the Sanjak of Alexandretta (now Hatay). He was educated in a religious school and a primary school in Antakya and then received his secondary education in Konya. After completing his education he was appointed a secondary school teacher in Antakya and later became director of education in Arsuz province.

In 1927 al-Arsuzi traveled to Paris to study in the Department of Philosophy in the Sorbonne. During this period, he came under the intellectual influence of French thinkers such as Henri Bergson and of the German idealists; he was also impressed by the works of Ibn Arabi and Ibn Khaldun.[1]

Nationalist activity in Iskandarun

Al-Arsuzi returned to Syria in 1930 and worked as a teacher in Antakya, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor. In this period he began his career of political militancy. In 1934 he was dismissed from his teaching post by the French mandatory authorities and returned to Iskandarun province. At the time, there was considerable agitation over demands from the province's sizeable Turkish minority that it be handed over to Turkey. Al-Arsuzi established his first political organisation, the National Action League, in opposition to these demands, and was intensely active from 1936 to 1938 when the French authorities granted the province to Turkey.

In 1938 the League was dissolved, and al-Arsuzi founded the Arabism Club and opened a bookshop with the name "Al-Ba'th al-Arabi" (The Arab Renaissance). This appears to have been the first use of the term ba'th in Arab nationalist circles.[2]

1940s and the formation of the Baath Movement

In 1940 al-Arsuzi travelled to Baghdad where he took up a new job, but he was dismissed before the end of the year and returned to Damascus, where according to some accounts in November he decided to establish a group under the name of the Arab Renaissance (al-ba'th al-'arabi). Historian Hanna Batatu states that in 1944 some of al-Arsuzi's followers, led by Wahib al-Ghanim, deserted him, and later that in June 1945 they joined the Arab Resurrection (al-ihya al-'arabi) group led by Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar. Thus, in Batatu's version, Arsuzi's part in the foundation of the Ba'th Party was of two kinds: his intellectual contribution in itself, and his role in mobilising an active group of young men, many of them refugees from Iskandarun like himself, who would form one of the nuclei of the new party. However, other writers suggest that al-Arsuzi played a direct role in the formation of the Ba'th organisation itself.[3] When the Ba'th Party was formally established by 'Aflaq and Bitar in Damascus in 1947, Arsuzi was not a member.

The Ideology of Arab nationalism

Al-Arsuzi paid considerable attention to cultural matters, and Batatu records that the only condition of membership in his organisation was "to write or translate a book contributing to the resurrection (ba'th) of Arab heritage."[4] He has been described as a proponent of the "linguistic image of Arab nationalism", and in 1942 published one of his most important works, Abqariyyat al-'arabiyya fi lisaniha (The Genius of Arabic in its Tongue). His approach was distinguished by its emphasis on philology, but he did also pay attention to problems of the modern state and to questions of democracy and the locus of power.[5] Batatu has also described al-Arsuzi as having a racialist outlook which proved in the end intellectually sterile and unsatisfactory to his followers, and as having been deeply influenced in his thought by the tenets of his Alawi religious background.[4] Other writers have been more positive in their assessment of al-Arsuzi's contribution to the ideology of Arab nationalism.

Later life

After his return from Baghdad in 1940 al-Arsuzi had gained a position teaching philosophy but he was soon dismissed from it. From 1945 until 1952 he worked again as a secondary teacher, first in Hama and then in Aleppo, and from 1952 until his retirement in 1959 he taught in a teacher training college.[6] In 1963, in the wake of the Sixth National Congress of the Ba'th Party and the party's gradual alienation from its founders Aflaq and Bitar, Hafiz al-Asad arranged for Arsuzi to help with Ba'thist ideological formation in the army, and later ensured that he was granted a state pension.

Zaki al-Arsuzi died in Damascus in 1968.


  1. ^ Charif, p. 244.
  2. ^ Charif, p. 244; Batatu, pp.
  3. ^ Charif, pp. 244-245;
  4. ^ a b Batatu, p. 724.
  5. ^ Charif, pp. 217-219; title of book is given by Batatu, p. 723.
  6. ^ Charif, p. 245


  • Keith D. Watenpaugh,(Keith David Watenpaugh) "Creating Phantoms: Zaki al-Arsuzi, The Alexandretta Crisis and the Formation of Modern Arab Nationalism in Syria," in The International Journal of Middle East Studies, 28 (1996), 363-389.
  • Charif, Maher, Rihanat al-nahda fi'l-fikr al-'arabi, Damascus, Dar al-Mada, 2000.
  • Batatu, Hanna, The Old Social Classes and New Revolutionary Movements of Iraq, London, al-Saqi Books, 2000. ISBN 0-86356-520-4
  • Seale, Patrick, Asad: the Struggle for the Middle East, Berkely, University of California Press, 1988


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